LSE Africa Summit 2015 Round-up
Ambition, renewal and innovation were the catchwords of the LSE Africa Summit Conference held on the 17th and 18th April in Holborn, London. Bright and engaging speakers argued the features of a new Africa, emerging and thriving with opportunities, resources and markets gradually giving way to innovative and creative entrepreneurs. However, there remains a large number of challenges to overcome, especially on political plans, demographics, a population that is growing but also on the sensitive topics of health and education. The speakers, during two intense days in a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere, inspired the audience with endless ambition by discussing the strengths and guidelines for future evolutions of Africa. The first day was devoted to research while the second focused on business.
Day 1: Research Conference
Microphones available to the panellists, water bottles in eyesight, theatre dim but stage brightly lit. The LSE Africa Summit is ready to start and it is with a keynote address from Professor Tim Allen (LSE), proud of its students and optimistic about the future of the continent, that the conference opens. A brief introduction before the subject of “innovative governance” opens the ball. The message is clear: the current political systems must evolve and make way for new ways of governing, adapted to the present context of African nations. The case of Nigeria has been impeccably discussed, highlighting the need for governance to be more focused on the needs of citizens. Policy makers are advised to listen to the desires of the indigenous and use the shared past of the country to reunite the northern Muslim country and southern Christian
Governments also face many challenges in terms of security and should opt for innovative measures to fight against the terrorist threat like that of Boko Haram as its pressures towards countries bordering Nigeria also increase.
Side entrepreneurship and the problem of corruption recurrent in Africa became the subject of a long discussion, “It’s time to start considering as unacceptable what always seemed familiar.” Corruption is also the main obstacle when looking at building a business in Uganda, where 64% of citizens say they have already experienced bribery.
As the day progresses panellists reveal how the use of new technologies and social networks, is playing a leading role in the transformation of African societies: it is a bridge between citizens and governments to better understand the needs and behaviours of society especially through the treatment of large-scale information. In this way, big data is also a major opportunity for Africa’s future.
Finally, the need to reform health problems revealed the responsibility of states to face in tackling the ominous HIV and Ebola. This topic is discussed in a question and answer format. Despite the heavy topic, the panel engage in a way that is very interactive and punctilious.
Day 2: Business Panel
I arrived 10 minutes before the start of the conference, the crowd was already stirring. Researchers, entrepreneurs, media and students sat on the edge of their seats and with good reason: the vice president of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, opened the day with a speech full of hope and optimism turned towards the country’s development.His communication is again based on the topic of “innovative governance” but this time with a particular focus on Nigeria’s poverty, education, access to basic needs such as housing or electricity. Lagos, yet the most dynamic city in the country itself has nearly 3 million homeless and for it “housing is a priority, especially social housing. Osinbajo’s discourse also moves in favour of transparency in business, equally, he advances giving “a chance to any business to be successful.” “The Nigerians expect a new paradigm of transparency, efficiency, a new mind-set and probity of public services“. Many times, his speech left reflected the will to rebuild new procedures for public institutions, the responsibility is great “The public service must be based on public trust, and earn it“.
He also reviews the importance of education and is confident about the potential of Nigerian youth. He stresses the significance of education by calling it a way out of poverty and reveals desire to strengthen the education system by facilitating access for the poorest families through greater infrastructure. “There is a positive correlation between economic development and education which the government must work in strengthening because the faculty at present is insufficient.” He is also aware of the impact of new technologies and discusses supporting entrepreneurship and talent in this area; a reassuring and optimistic speech tied to the realities on the ground. The ideas are sound and well defined, and strongly emphasize the responsibility of governments.
The first round-table discusses steps towards democracy in Africa. Again, the need to govern differently is underlined. Speakers question the position of some leaders denouncing abuse of their dominant positions. The words are strong: “we have built our own systems the way we were treated during colonization“. In this panel priorities which must be addressed by governments are discussed: health, malnutrition, education must be the spearhead.
In the second panel, speakers discuss entrepreneurship and innovation through new technologies. An exciting topic for me. As panellists interact I cannot help but agree. Youth outreach to new technologies are essential as Theirry N’doufou has understood: he is developing a tablet for children and the illiterate, to learn to read and write in a fun and intuitive way. The tablet was designed to correspond to the local climate (resistant to high temperatures, robust and durable). I can only welcome the initiative.
The challenge: education models are very limited while the population is very creative. Solution: give young people the tools and resources so they can use new technologies to create new products, new services but also make more efficient industries or informal economies such as the banking system. “We need more problem solvers and fewer performers. There are a lot of problems in Africa, every problem is a business opportunity. Where there is a problem there is a solution to make money “. Amen.
The next panel focused on how to make health a priority for African governments? The panel answers by pressing the introduction of a system of prevention, which would be more useful and less expensive than care itself. The responsibility of governments is to educate people and raise awareness of the measures and precautions to be taken in designing appropriate services and solutions.
Striking figure on motherhood: more than 36,000 women die annually in Nigeria due to birth complications. Proper care for the childbearing should also become a priority as “every baby born is a chance for the government to do better … Governments must rely on these figures and react to create health systems based on evidence.”
Finally, several business opportunities are discussed in the last panel, noting demographic and social changes that leave room for more opportunities. A “copy and paste” Western model cannot do the job. It would make little sense to the extent that the market is different. In Tanzania, for example, a large number of the population owns a smartphone but parallel banking systems are underdeveloped and few people have a credit card. The mobile payment solutions there have been designed based on the structure of this market and it is now possible in Tanzania to pay via mobile without a credit card.
Exceptional speakers, ambitious projects and a lot of humour contributed to the success of this conference. I would have liked to make a few citations that made the audience laugh out loud but keep up with this series, they are coming soon. I regret, however, (and what I say is the case of many events geared towards Africa) that North Africa is often excluded from such discussions. Nonetheless, the event is a 10/10 and I’m looking forward to the next year’s edition!